Industry Sponsor Influence in Clinical Trial Reporting in Canada: A Qualitative Interview Study

Clin Ther. 2022 Mar;44(3):374-388. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2021.11.019. Epub 2021 Dec 23.


Purpose: Approximately 40% of randomized controlled trials are not published, leading to publication bias and less informed clinical decision-making. Qualitative interviews were conducted to understand whether and how industry sponsors of clinical trials of drugs and biologics in Canada influence decisions to report trial results.

Methods: Participants eligible for an interview included clinical trial investigators and research coordinators with experience in drug research, research ethics board members with at least 1 year of experience in ethical review of trials, research administrators with knowledge of dissemination of clinical trial findings or relations with trial sponsors, and trial participants who had taken part in a drug trial as an adult in the 5 years before their interview. Semi-structured interviews were held in person or by telephone between March 2019 and April 2021 with participants in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, Canada. Qualitative analysis included coding of interview transcripts and identification of key themes.

Findings: Interviews were conducted with 34 participants, including 17 clinical trial investigators, 1 clinical research coordinator, 3 research administrators, 3 research ethics board members, and 10 clinical trial participants. Participants involved in the conduct, administration, or ethical review of trials represented a range of medical disciplines. Interview participant accounts indicated that in some cases, industry sponsors influence whether results are reported. A core theme was that companies have a weaker incentive to publish trials with unfavorable findings and trials for products that they have decided not to develop further. Companies may influence reporting in various ways, including stopping trials early and not reporting results of stopped trials, owning and controlling access to data, and negotiating clinical trial agreements in multicenter trials that do not fully protect the ability of investigators to publish. Internal company trials represent an additional source of unpublished trials. More broadly, the research system creates a dependency on funding from industry sponsors that may weaken the ability of researchers and research institutions to negotiate terms with industry sponsors that would fully protect publication rights.

Implications: Interviews with trial investigators and others connected to trial research indicate that in some cases, industry sponsors of clinical trial research in Canada influence whether results are reported. Policies aiming to bring about full reporting of trials could benefit from considering the commercial incentives of companies and the ways in which industry sponsors may influence clinical trial reporting. Future research could examine the generalizability of these findings to other jurisdictions.

Keywords: clinical trial; interview; nonpublication; publication bias; sponsor.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Personnel*